Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Alishan, Ghevont

  • ArmenianHistory-writingLiterature (poetry/verse)
  • Social category:
    ClericsCreative writersScholars, scientists, intellectuals
  • VIAF ID:
  • Title:
    Alishan, Ghevont
  • Title2:
    Alishan, Ghevont
  • Text:

    Ghevont Alishan (Constantinople/Istanbul 1820 – Venice 1901), Armenian Romantic poet, educator and historian, was born into an Armenian Catholic family in the Ottoman capital and entered the seminary of the Armenian Catholic Mekhitarist Congregation on the island of San Lazzaro in Venice in 1832. He was ordained a priest and joined the Congregation in 1840. His literary and scholarly work played a major role in shaping Armenian ethnic self-identity and in expanding European conceptions of Armenian history.

    The first half of his life as a member of the Congregation was devoted largely to education and poetry. Between 1840 and 1872, Alishan served intermittently as a teacher and principal of the Mekhitarist schools in Venice and Paris. These schools trained generations of Armenian boys from the Ottoman Empire who, upon their return home, became protagonists of the Armenian national movement as writers, teachers, political reformers, etc. Alishan was also a pioneer in the realm of Armenian Romantic verse. Written largely in Classical Armenian, his poetry addressed both religious and patriotic themes. In particular, he developed the concept of homeland, extolling its natural beauty and drawing attention to heroic episodes in the Armenian past. He first published his poems in the long-running Mekhitarist journal Bazmavep (“Polymath”), which he edited from 1848 to 1851. One of these poems, published in the journal in 1850, was later put to music by the Venetian violinist Pietro Bianchini and retitled “Bam porotan” (“Boom, they roar”). As a song, it became a quasi-anthem of the post-Ottoman Armenian diaspora. Many of Alishan’s poems were collected and published as Nuagk (“Songs”, 5 vols, 1857-58). Alishan explored similar patriotic themes – this time, in modern Armenian prose — in his Hushikk hayreneats hayots (“Memories of an Armenian homeland”, 2 vols, 1869-70), presenting figures from ancient and medieval Armenian history. During the same period, Alishan also produced a translation into Classical Armenian of the fourth canto of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. His translation was published in a bilingual volume by the Mekhitarist press in Venice in 1872.

    The second half of Alishan’s life was devoted to historical and philological research. Interested primarily in the ancient and medieval periods, he worked first and foremost to document the history, topography and customs of historic Armenian provinces. He published studies for the provinces of Shirak (1881), Sisuan (1885), Ayrarat (1890) and Sisakan (1893). These interests are also noticeable in other publications, including an expansive dictionary of the flora of the Armenian provinces (1895) and a study of the pre-Christian religious practices of ancient Armenians (1895). While Alishan wrote most of his studies in Armenian, he also wrote (and was translated into) French, English and Italian. These works appeared as standalone publications and in journals such as the Journal asiatique, and were signed with the Anglicized, Gallicized or Italianized forms of his name (Leo, Léonce, Leonzio). Among these works figure a collection of Armenian folk songs (in English, 1852), a compendium of sources chronicling Armenian-Venetian relations in the 13th and 14th centuries (in Italian, 1893), and a half-dozen works in French that mirror his studies in Armenian. These include Tableau succinct de l’histoire et de la littérature de l’Arménie (1854), Le Haygh, sa période et sa fête (1860), Étude de la patrie: Physiographie de l’Armenie (1861), Schirac, canton d’Ararat (1881), Léon le Magnifique, premier roi de Sissouan ou de l’Arméno-Cilicie (1888), and Sissouan, ou l’Arméno-Cilicie: description géographique et historique (1899). Alishan also translated from Armenian into French a series of historical sources for the benefit of European historians. These include a 5th-century letter detailing the conversion of the city of Edessa to Christianity (1868), the 13th-century Assizes of Antioch, law codes of the crusader principality (1876), and descriptions of the holy sites in Jerusalem in the late fifteenth century (1884).

    Publishing in European languages made Alishan’s work widely accessible. It was particularly well received by the French Orientalists Édouard Dulaurier and Marie-Félicité Brosset. In his later life, Alishan was recognized by a series of European institutions. He was awarded a medal by the Académie française for his Armenological research in 1886 and was given an honorary doctorate from the University of Jena in 1897. He was also made an honorary member of the Società asiatica italiana (1887), the Imperial Archeological Society of Moscow (1894) and Imperial Russian Archaeological Society of St Petersburg (1896).

    Word Count: 705

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  • Chemchemean, Sahak; H. Ghewond Alishan: Tesuch’ Parizi Muratean Varzharani (1858-1861) (Venice: S. Ghazar, 1980).

    Eremean, Simeon; Kensagrutiwn H. Alishani (Venice: S. Ghazar, 1902).

    Ohanean, Vahan; Namakani (Yerevan: Mkhitarean hratarakchatun, 2020).

    Ohanian, Vahan; “Père Ghevond (Léonce) Alishan, poète et historien d’une Arménie radieuse”, in Outtier, Bernard; Yevadian, Maxime K. (eds.); Jubilé de l’Ordre des pères mékhitaristes: Tricentenaire de la maison mère, l'abbaye de Saint-Lazare, 1717-2017 (Lyon: Sources d’Arménie, 2017), 113-122.

    Oshakan, Hakob; Hamapatker arewmtahay grakanutean (vol. 2 of 10; Jerusalem: Tparan Srbots Hakobeants, 1953), 49-190 (entry on Alishan).

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    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Manoukian, Jennifer, 2022. "Alishan, Ghevont", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 04-04-2022, consulted 05-12-2022.